Excitement over a Bremerton High School football team has probably never been higher than it was the fall of 1947. The team had been 8-2 in 1946 and the only starter lost was running back Gale Wade, who turned down a college scholarship for $5,000 to sign with the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. Quarterback Don Heinrich was the team leader and Dwight Scheyer was the coach. Scheyer, at 6-4, 220-pounds, was a striking individual. He had been an all-Coast tackle at Washington State College under the legendary Babe Hollingbery and placed third in the discus in the 1935 NCAA championships
Scheyer came to Bremerton as head football and baseball coach in 1942. His experience was two uneventful seasons at North Kitsap and Snohomish, But at Bremerton he walked into a loaded deck and he knew how to play it.
Bremerton had rejoined several other major schools in a revival of the pre-war Cross-State League. So the schedule was not an easy one.
The Wildcats had been working all summer at Twanoh State Park and any place else they found room in hopes of having a really great season. Then they heard talk from Seattle, where high school teams were not allowed to compete outside the city, that there might be a "Turkey Day" game against the Seattle champion in the High School Memorial Stadium on Thanksgiving Day.
Bremerton had whipped O’Dea 64-0 in its opener and was on its way. Everett, a victor over Bremerton for 11 straight years, and Yakima were two possible roadblocks. Yakima beat Everett 8-7 on a bad-snap safety in the mud at Everett, but Bremerton finally whipped the Seagulls, 27-0.
Meanwhile, the Seattle prize was confirmed and Bremerton was being challenged by everybody. Scheyer and Bremerton Athletic Director Larry Ramm tried to accommodate. Bremerton even squeezed in a Tuesday night game at Port Angeles (a 34-6 win) to appease the Olympic League.
It was during halftime at PA that Scheyer told his team they already had the Turkey Day bid. But they still had a game at unbeaten Yakima. If Bremerton should lose that one, there would be an uproar all across the state.
Scheyer and Ramm rose to the occasion. In 1947 you couldn’t just go to your nearest airline ticket counter and buy 50 tickets to get your football team from here to there. In fact no Washington high school athletic team had ever flown to a game. And there were no pressurized cabins in those days. It would be a challenge to fly below the oxygen limits and get forth and back before sunset.
In was a beautiful Saturday in Yakima. An overnight skiff of snow had melted. The field was wet, but firm. The Wildcats had no trouble putting Yakima in the same league as Everett, winning 27-0. But now they had to get home. The route was over Snoqualmie Pass and the bewitching hour was 4:05 p.m., official sunset that day.
Another challenge for Scheyer and Ramm was that game day was the day of the Senior Prom. Gambling on early-winter weather and all the hype and prom activities, Scheyer and Ramm won on all fronts.
The Yakima game was a breakout for sophomore running back Tiny Madlin, who scored two of the touchdowns on long runs. Scheyer was not risking his star running back, Jim Wiley. Heinrich was his usual calm and cool self and the small, but quick and hard-hitting Bremerton line opened holes wide enough for anyone to run through.
Used to crowds of more than 4,000 in Memorial Stadium, almost that many crowded a Black Ball ferry to get to the game in Seattle, where 16,000 fans crowded Memorial Stadium.
Bremerton won the game, beating unbeaten Ballard, 19-14. It was the passing of Heinrich and the running of Wiley and the Bremerton line, both offense and defense, that sent the Wildcats home with a perfect 12-0 season.
The Associated Press poll that determined "mythical champions" in those days voted Bremerton the state champion, 15-13. Longview and Chewelah, the unbeatens that Bremerton did not play, got the opposing votes.
Bremerton’s 12-game season raised other complaints and resulted in the "Bremerto rule." Washington high school football teams were limited to nine games. Exceptions were allowed for "traditional" Thanksgiving Day games and playoffs. That rule stood until 1973 when the present high school playoff systeam was adopted.
Five other Wildcats joined Heinrich on the University of Washington freshman team in 1948. They were linemen Ed Boyle, Jack Crawford and Bud Olsen, and halfbacks Wiley and George Ogg. Heinrich became an all-American and had a long career as an NFL player and coach. Wiley was a Husky star.
When the Kitsap Sun listed its teams and "players of the century" in December 1999, Heinrich was the Player of the Century and the 1947 Bremerton HS football team was the Team of the Century.
Don Heinrich was inducted into the Kitsap Sports Hall of Fame last year.